Brewing beer is a fusion of art and science. If either of those components are absent you miss the mark on quality; ignoring the art can leave you with technically sound but uninteresting brews, while ignoring the science can lead to absolute catastrophe.
When BenchTop Brewing Company opens later this year in the Chelsea section of Norfolk’s burgeoning Beer District we will be treated with a good mix of both, with special emphasis on the science.
People who get into brewing come from all different backgrounds, but some of those backgrounds are more complementary than others. Is Eric Tennant, BenchTop’s owner, on a firmer foundation with his degree and professional experience in food science than I am with my degree in French literature? After meeting with Eric and discussing the future of his endeavor I can answer that question with a definite “yes.” Eric, who grew up in North Carolina, became passionate about craft beer while living in Wisconsin. When he decided that he wanted to try his hand at homebrewing he studied for a year before ever even attempting a batch (in contrast with the 5 minutes I spent reading the instructions included with my ingredient kit before I brewed my first batch).
He started right in with 15 gallon all grain batches, fermented in stainless steel conical fermenters, as opposed to the standard 5 gallon extract brews in a plastic bucket. In a very short period of time he was winning local and state homebrew competitions. In short, he takes the science of beer very seriously.
This is not to say that BenchTop beers will be boring. The sample of a double IPA that I got to try on a recent visit with Eric was definitely exciting, with an aroma that made this hop head wish he could somehow make a scented candle out of it. Buzz from other pilot batches that have made the rounds at tastings have likewise shown beers with tons of personality, and Eric clearly takes delight in challenging palates and pushing boundaries. I bet he has a poster that explains the different tastebud regions of the tongue. Science.
Inspired by the craft beer scene in Wisconsin, Eric knew that opening a brewery was what he wanted to do. What he didn’t want to do, however, was to plant roots so far from his family ties in North Carolina. When the opportunity came to move to Hampton Roads he jumped at it, and he currently works as a food scientist for Smithfield Foods while planning his brewery in his free time. I had actually mentioned BenchTop in a previous article for AltDaily (the Beer Loop), when the plan was to open in Suffolk. Those plans changed as Eric was having difficulty finding a suitable building with an agreeable landlord, but he is clearly now excited to be in a spot so close to other breweries.
The future location for the brewery, just across the street from Otzi Tattoo Agency, is 5,500 square feet with great potential. A stone’s throw from the Elizabeth River Trail, this is going to be a great place for me to rest when the kids make me go on a bike ride. There are plans for outdoor seating, a tasting room where you will be able to pair beers with selected charcuterie, and a 7bbl brewhouse (1 bbl = 31 gallons, class dismissed). With an initial focus on hop-forward styles, the eventual plan is to also have a sour beer program that will be sealed off from the regular brewing area to prevent cross-contamination. Remember? Science!
My guess at this point is that BenchTop Brewing Company is going to be a great addition to the area, and I look forward to having that guess confirmed later in the year. In the meantime, make sure you follow the brewery on Facebook and score some unique rewards by backing them on their Kickstarter drive.